Fuel Cell power for homes

dim4funMay 14, 2010

I looked for the right place to post this and didn't find a better match.

Today I was asked about ClearEdge Power for new large homes and I couldn't answer as I'd never heard of it. I had only read about the concept of local power generation using natural gas but that was by burning it to power turbine driven generators and not fuel cells.

From what I've been able to find it sounds like the fuel cell works best for commercial applications where they can make better use of the heat production. In a home I'm wondering where to use the constantly provided heat for much of the year. Pools can only absorb heat if the filter pump is running and domestic hot water is often not needed for many hours per day. Excess electricity can be fed back into the grid similar to solar or wind systems.

Where does this make sense? Any thoughts welcome.


Here is a link that might be useful: Clear Edge Power fuel cell

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Well, my thoughts are - (1) that you still have not found an appropriate place to post what appears to be a thinly disguised advertisement. (2) if fuel cells were even close to economically practical, there would be a lot more of them than are currently in operation.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 8:13PM
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I had a general contractor ask me about it. I have been participating on GW forum for many years and know that many energy saving devices have been debated here. It doesn't really fit over on the renewable energy forum as it is still using natural gas and steadily. You turn this thing on and it runs making heat and electricity whether you need it or not. The not part doesn't make sense to me as the efficiencies go down when you don't need what it makes yet it is being suggested for large homes and that is what the GC builds that asked me about it.

I googled but can't find out even how much this thing is and hesitate to be put on their contact list. There were no reviews that I could find.

    Bookmark   May 14, 2010 at 11:39PM
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How does a fuel cell save any energy?

It is just another fuel burning device that produces electric power.

NG is cleaner than burning coal, but that is not "energy saving."

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 11:21AM
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They are claiming higher efficiencies than grid power (energy savings) because there are no transmission losses with the electrical power generation being local and with the waste heat used in the building. It is also not burning the NG. It's an exothermic chemical reaction that doesn't involve a flame.

This morning I found an estimated price of $60,000 to 70,000 for the Clear Edge installed without subsidies and a possible $12,500 subsidy. I don't see any buyers at that price. Panasonic and Toshiba are projecting that they will have $5,000 units within a few years and that may make sense for natural gas rich areas. They are hoping to become profitable in this through exports as the numbers don't work well in Japan with little natural gas and the power cost not being cheaper than grid.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 1:18PM
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The unit may in fact be more efficent from an energy input vs. output point of view. But at a price of 50K dollars for an installed unit, it may never make monetary sense - if I had 50k in the bank drawing modest interest, it would more than pay my power bill, so in effect my electricity would be "free".

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 3:38PM
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"It is also not burning the NG. It's an exothermic chemical reaction that doesn't involve a flame."

Really buying into the BS here.

You do not have to have a flame to burn (oxidize) something.

Transmission looses are not high enough to justify the ridiculous costs of this equipment.

It is going to be a long time before this becomes economically viable.

Until then it remains a gimmick.

    Bookmark   May 15, 2010 at 4:36PM
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Ron Natalie

Oxidation != Burn.
If it were, my Chevy is burning away in the front yard.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 8:37AM
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"Oxidation != Burn.

It actually is. Basic chemistry.

The only difference with your Chevy is that the rate is very slow and the heat generation is therefore small, but the oxidation of iron to iron oxide is indeed a 'burning' process.

Oxidation means to combine with oxygen and that is exactly what happens when we burn something.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 9:11AM
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Burning is an exothermic reaction. All exothermic reaction are not burning.

Burning is an oxidation/reduction reaction. All oxidation/reduction reactions are not burning.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 9:35AM
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Burning in the vernacular is an oxidation reaction.

    Bookmark   May 16, 2010 at 12:29PM
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I first read about these natural gas FCs maybe a decade or so ago. At the time there were one or two companies experimenting with them, but IIRC they gave up because they couldn't find a market. No wonder, at prices like that!

I got the impression that the idea was that you'd use these your heat and get the electricity more or less for free, if you didn't count the cost for the unit.

With net metering becoming more common, such a FC starts to look more practical IF the manufacturers can get the purchase price down to a level where the payback happens within the life of the FC - and preferably a lot sooner than that. Otherwise they're just for "deep green" folks, or those who just have to have the latest gadget.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2010 at 12:55AM
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I've seen that some of these have been installed at office buildings. They were rather large (6' tall, 4' wide, 6' deep). I think the utility can use them in a 'virtual powerplant' configuration. That is, several of them are installed in an area and then used to provide extra power during brown-out conditions. However, the jury is still out until studies are completed whether several thousand of these are more economical than a new NG-fired power plant.

I worked for a company that was involved with the 'virtual powerplant' concept using solar panels and batteries. In a home (and business) configuration, net-metering was done. The utility had the ability of using the energy stored in the batteries to provide extra generating capacity during peak loads. The homeowner (landlord) received a discount on his power rate for this.

    Bookmark   May 18, 2010 at 6:30PM
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I can't believe that none of you have heard of Bloom Boxes. They got a lot of publicity in January or so. Fuel cells have been the next best thing for 2 decades or more. Maybe they will arrive soon!

    Bookmark   May 21, 2010 at 6:16PM
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This is well established technology and is already in wide use in Japan.

Most fuel cells work by using water as a fuel. They separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules and hydrogen is then 'burned' to create energy. The Oxygen is released into the atmosphere as a 'waste' product.

The natural gas based fuel cell is more efficient, because although it too works the same way as a water based system by separating hydrogen atoms from the natural gas molecule, the hydrogen molecule is held less tightly to the natural gas molecule than it is to a water molecule.

This means hydrogen can be more efficiently accessed using natural gas than water.

This isn't BS.

It is applied science.

The problem remains, however, that energy supplied from fuel cells (just like wind turbines and solar panels) costs far more than energy supplied by your local electric utility.

And the only way they are made affordable, is because the Federal Government is currently giving a $9000 credit toward their installation, and a yearly tax credit of up to for their continued operation for life.

What's 'wrong' with this system then has nothing to do with the technology, but rather the fact that we taxpayers are paying for alternate energy systems that cannot pay for themselves, and that they are being installed as retrofits in existing buildings that are in most cases entirely underinsulated.

The net result: We tax payers are paying those with energy wasteful homes (because of lack of insulation) to put in and maintain these technologies just to use less energy from the grid.

This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

It's like putting in the most energy efficient heating and cooling system money can by, then leaving your doors and windows open all day and having the Taxpayers foot your energy bills.


If one spends 1/3 the cost of one of the fuel cells, solar panels, or windmills on added insulation, sealing air leaks and installing energy efficient windows...the user would decrease his energy use off the grid much more and at far less cost to the US taxpayer.

And the net effect would be to use much less energy from the grid as a nation.

Washington backasswardness at its best.

Shear lunacy.

If you really want to use less from the grid while saving money.....Forget fuel cells, windmills, and solar panels and


    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 7:25AM
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"They separate the hydrogen and oxygen molecules and hydrogen is then 'burned' to create energy. "

And you will never get back as much energy as it took to separate the water.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 8:59AM
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You never get back the money in energy cost it takes to separate hydrogen atoms from natural gas either, but it takes less energy to separate hydrogen atoms from a natural gas molecule than from a water molecule, so technically speaking, using natural gas in fuel cells is more efficient and cheaper method than using water.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 9:39AM
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separating hydrogen and oxygen from water is called electrolysis. Hydrogen fuel cells combine hydrogen and oxygen to make water and electricity. The hydrogen is split using a catalyst (palladium?) into a proton and electron. The proton goes through a semipermeable element and the electron runs through your load. On the other side, the eletrons and protons combine with oxygen to make water. More or less.

With these NG types, the waste products include heat, CO and CO2.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 5:25PM
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Below is a link to a video that makes fuel cell technology easy to understand.

By the way, if the two men playing the hydrogen atoms look or sound familiar, they should be.

They are noneother than Click and Clack, the Tappet Brothers from NPR radio's "Car Talk"

Here is a link that might be useful: How Fuel Cells Work

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 7:37PM
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"You never get back the money in energy cost it takes to separate hydrogen atoms from natural gas either"

And that means you are not producing energy but consuming it and the entire thing is a crock.

I bet millions of people would buy perpetual motion machines also.

    Bookmark   May 22, 2010 at 7:56PM
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"And that means you are not producing energy but consuming it and the entire thing is a crock. I bet millions of people would buy perpetual motion machines also."

I guess by this faulty reasoning then, chopping wood, mining coal, producing atomic energy, or drilling for oil and turning it into gasoline is a 'crock' also because these efforts also require massive amounts of energy and capital to be consumed in order to produce them?

And electric motors that turn pumps to distribute hot water radiant heat in a slab are also a 'crock' since it takes more power in watts to make them run than is produced in horsepower or 'work' from them?

Air conditioners are a 'crock' because they consume more energy than they produce in BTU's for cooling the air?

Is using an outside woodburner a 'crock' to heat one's home because coal produces more BTUs than wood? Using natural gas rather than oil because oil produces more BTUs than oil?

NO energy source or machine is 100% efficient, just some more efficient than others.

It therefore does not follow that just because some types of fuels and energy systems cost more to produce than others, or some types of fuels are more efficient than others, or that all fuels and machines do not produce 100% efficiency that all forms of energy consuming machines or systems or fuels are a 'crock'.

Fuel cells work and work as designed, just like any other energy consuming/producing machine on the planet.

    Bookmark   May 23, 2010 at 7:31AM
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OK, a few points in reaction to some of the posts above.

First off, water is NOT a fuel.

And strictly speaking, in an H2 fuel cell, the H2 isn't a fuel either. You don't drill hydrogen wells. Hydrogen is made.

It can be made by electrolysis, in which case the real fuel is the electricity used to electrolyze water into hydrogen and oxygen - or, if you prefer, the fuel consumed to produce the electricity. (You could even cite the energy used to make PV cells if that's your source.)

H2 can also be made from natural gas. As I understand it, that's where most industrial hydrogen comes from.

All a NGFC does is conduct that NG to H2 process on board the fuel cell, rather than in a processingplant somewhere else. Is that more efficient? I have no idea. Maybe. I do know that when H2 is made from NG, CO2 is released - just as it would be if the gas were burned, and that's also true of a NGFC.

If the NGFC *is* more efficient, and I say IF, it's most likely because you get electricity in addition to heat. Of course that only works IF you use both rather than discarding the one you don't need right now. (See also : cogeneration.)

I know nothing about any incentive program for fuel cells. That's news to me, but then I don't spend much time with newspapers these days.

However, I can tell you that no matter what the incentive program, no matter how well intentioned, no matter how carefully designed, SOMEONE will find a way to abuse it. Then some radiio or telvision shout-jock will latch onto that story and rant about how the program is a complete waste of YOUR TAX DOLLARS because a few people are taking advantage of it.

Hey, they *have* to rant about something, that's what keeps their listeners tuned in and their advertisers paying. Talking about the *positive* results of a program doesn't make for listener loyalty or ad revenues, and also doesn't serve the boss's agenda.

So if a few people are going to game the system, does that mean we should never try to do any good for the vast majority of folks who don't?

As far as questions of efficiency go, sure, nothing's 100% efficient, but some systems are better than others. A GSHP, for example, isn't really 350% efficient, but it *looks* that way because it harvests heat from the earth. Sounds like a good idea to me.

But we have to do what we can, and soon. Our world is hooked on energy and I don't see us going back to the stone age.

Fossill fuels are finite. "Peak oil" may be right or it may be grossly far off. No matter. Eventually, whether it's in our liftimes our our kids' or grandkids', oil and gas, maybe even coal, will become harder and more expensive (financially and health-wise) to get.

Given that petroleum currently comes from relatively unstable areas of the world, a sensible government of any country should be taking well informed, carefully designed steps to conserve petroleum - through improvements in efficiency - and to find alternatives.

Alas, doing that is complex and involves thousands of stakeholders. No government in any nation will ever make everyone happy following that course. But they're crazy if they don't try. I say give them a break as they look for politically realistic ways to conserve and develop alternatives.

Most importantly, as that process goes on, don't just listen to one or two sources telling you that incentive A is bad or law B is good.

Research. Learn for yourself. Go to primary sources, NOT the news media. When it comes to energy, almost without exception, media people are ignorant, misinformed, deceptive, or some combination of the three. Reporters routinely report on things they know nothing about. And every newspaper, every T-V network, every raido conglomerate, is owned by someone who usually has an agenda - and don't think they don't enforce it.

So, go get it for yourself. Then, do what your research tells you is right for your situation, whether that's more insulation, or a GSHP, or a fuel cell, or whatever. And then tell your neighbor.

    Bookmark   May 24, 2010 at 11:31PM
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